As part of a two-year Artist in the Schools (AITS) grant, the Donkey Mill’s Teaching Artists have implemented programs at several schools on Hawaiʻi Island. Read below to learn more about the incredible work of our Youth Team at Kahakai Elementary and Volcano School of Arts & Sciences. 

Kahakai Elementary School

Kahakai Elementary 3rd graders learned to use the language of art alongside scientific inquiry and evidence to create visual interpretations of Hawaiʻi weather maps. Students translated scientific weather data into abstract and landscape paintings, creating visual narratives that depicted regions of Hawaiʻi Island prone to drought and flood conditions.

“I was proud of my students for stepping outside the box and really embracing risk-taking with the art materials. The residency allowed play as part of the artistic process, which pushed students to challenge themselves,” said third-grade teacher Rani Henderson.

“My personal goal was to push the boundaries of interpreting landscapes through color play rooted in curiosity,” said teaching artist Angaea Cuna.

Curiosity was sparked as one third grader noted she was inspired to take the art lessons she learned about Hawaiʻi’s weather and try other color combinations with watercolors and oil pastels at home. Creative outlets may lead students to other pathways for critical thinking and problem-solving, while also opening emotional responses to making the study of Earth’s weather systems more meaningful.

Volcano School of Arts & Sciences

At Volcano School of Arts & Sciences (VSAS) second, third, and fourth graders explored symbolism and metaphor through Hawaiian mythology and sensory participation. Students learned about plant fibers and natural colorants to understand a Hawaiian heritage art form, developing relationships with the life source of their art supplies and broadening their appreciation of place-based historical art forms that are both practical and beautiful.

Fourth-grade teacher Hannah Proffitt shared, “The most worthwhile aspect of the Artist in the School (AITS) residency for the participating classroom teachers was the infusion of creativity into the curriculum. By integrating Hawaiian culture, tradition, language, and art into their lessons, teachers found innovative ways to engage students and enhance learning experiences. This residency provided teachers with valuable resources and techniques to inspire student interest and participation. Moreover, it offered teachers professional development opportunities to explore new teaching methodologies and incorporate diverse perspectives into their classroom practices. Ultimately, the AITS residency empowered teachers to foster a more dynamic and inclusive learning environment, enriching both their own teaching repertoire and their students’ educational journey.”

Third-grade teacher Laura Warner noted, “They loved having an outdoor classroom to get messy in too. The children were amazed that they were able to create contours and skin color with finely ground soil held in little coconut and ʻopihi vessels for their portraits. There was a tangible sense of great pride and peace that blanketed the space when the children walked into the art center to behold the dedication and aloha put into their finished work professionally displayed for all to witness.”

Second-grade teacher Erica Jensen added, Having Puakea explain and act out the origin story of kapa (the story of Maikoha) made a deep impression on my students. Not only did she tell the story in a lively and engaging way, but she invited students to act out several retellings of the story. This process helped students retain the story for future writing, retelling, and enacting. I plan to have my students create a dramatic presentation of the story of Maikoha to share with students of other grades who did not get the opportunity to participate in the AITS residency this time around.”

The residency culminated with a hōʻike of student work at Volcano Art Center’s main gallery space. Teachers, parents, administrators, and community members gathered to hear student stories of what was learned and created. Beautiful mahalo rituals were shared and exchanged along with joyful tears, smiles, and laughter.


Mahalo nui loa to the Hawaiʻi State Foundation for Culture and the Arts and Hawaiʻi Community Foundation for funding this two-year residency. 

Mahalo to teaching artists Angaea Cuna and Gerald Lucena for their excellent engagement in arts integration at Kahakai and to teaching artist Puakea Forester for her excellent engagement in arts and Hawaiian cultural integration at VSAS.

A special mahalo to the Kahakai Elementary 3rd grade teachers Rani Henderson, Allen Hong, Mady Parker, and Melissa Pesigan, and Principal Kori Takaki for being amazing hosts throughout the 10-day residency. 

Huge mahalo to VSAS teachers Matthew Warholic, Erica Jensen, Laura Warner, Hannah Proffitt, and Barbara Sarbin, and Principal Kalima Kinney for being amazing hosts throughout the 14-day residency, and to Volcano Art Center for hosting the hōʻike.

Learn More

The AITS Program is under the jurisdiction of the State Foundation for Culture and the Arts. AITS arts residency grants provide engaging, creative, and fun learning experiences based on the Fine Arts standards for all grade levels through residencies with qualified, trained teaching artists from the Artistic Teaching Partners (ATP) Roster. Many of these teaching artists integrate their art form with other core curriculum areas, such as language arts, math, social studies, and science, meeting both Fine Arts and other core standards.